On June 15th, 2019, I made my commentary debut on “World Series Of Fighting: Submission 1”, and it was my first step through the door of high-level martial arts. Being from Puerto Rico, it was a dream come true to meet so many great athletes and work with them.
I met Ruben Rivera and Casey Halstead backstage, and they convinced me to join 10th Planet Albuquerque when I returned home from Las Vegas after the gig. I admired Ruben’s work on mats as one of the most exciting grapplers in the game, and Casey Halstead’s coaching from the side was inspiring. I knew I wanted to change my life around, so as soon as I got back to New Mexico, I signed up.
I started my jiu-jitsu journey the Monday after, weighing 196 pounds standing only 5 ft 4 inches tall. I was a walking meatball. We began with the warm-ups, and 2 minutes after, I puked. I was embarrassed and self-conscious about my weight, but I kept going. I thought if I could make it to four classes a week, I would make progress.
One of the most challenging things about jiu-jitsu is just starting. The anxiety of embarrassing yourself in front of a new group of people can get to you, and t’s easy to overthink things like lack of conditioning. But I later learned that you could never get in good enough shape before trying a class. It’s such a different type of workout.
Also, jiu-jitsu is not like riding a bike. The mat rust is real, especially after two years of not doing anything. The level of training in the United States compared to Puerto Rico is at another level too. Especially now living in one of the most significant fight cities in the country.
Albuquerque is home to great fighters that helped popularize the sport of mixed martial arts. Gyms like Jackson Wink and the fighters that train there are legends to MMA fans. But a regular person probably thinks of green chiles or “Breaking Bad” when New Mexico comes up.
I asked my coach, Nate Harris if I could start at white belt again. The first time I got my blue belt, it was after just three months of training, and it didn’t feel legit to me. I am my harshest critic, and I know for damn sure that I wasn’t a prodigy like BJ Penn.
Nate understood and let me start as a white belt in the 10th Planet system, which was great because I was missing many fundamentals from my game. I was one of those stereotypical blue belts that only did leg locks because I didn’t want to ignore “50% of the body.” The other 50% wasn’t essential, I guess.
After the first few months, I registered for a competition as a white belt at 170 pounds. Looking back on it, I now realize I was undersized as a competitor in that division. Everyone was over 6 ft tall and had to cut to 170 pounds. I also had to go against one of my teammates, a wrestler with twenty years of experience.
He mauled me.
It was the first time that I experienced loss, and it was heartbreaking. I felt like an idiot just being there, and even though it was only a local tournament, I wanted to make my coach proud. I felt like I failed him, and I knew I had to get back to work.
I started to take my diet seriously, and I lost even more weight. Lifting and cardio were never really something that I thought would matter for my jiu-jitsu game. But, I could tell the difference when I was rolling. I felt stronger and more durable.
I received my blue belt under Nate Harris on November 12th, 2020, during the covid lockdowns, and it was a really special moment for me after dealing with my depression during the pandemic. The times were tough on the mind, but I just wanted to be as healthy as possible.
By December of 2020, I was walking around at 145 pounds, and I was the happiest I have ever been. My sleep was way better, and my abilities on the mats improved dramatically. High Rollerz caught my eye because of the ruleset and the attention their event brings to the health benefits for athletic performance of cannabis use. So I signed up for their tournament in the spring of 2021.
It was the readiest I ever felt about competing. I was mentally and physically in shape, and after watching my teammate, Carlos Condit, perform on Submission Underground the week before, I felt confident and motivated.
Once in Las Vegas, I was excited and nervous about competing. My division was 165 pounds or under, and I was very underweight, so all of my opponents were way bigger than me. Admittedly, I was intimidated at first, but I kept believing in myself.
I lost in the tournament’s first round, and even though I was disappointed, I am proud of my performance. The post-loss depression after a match is real, and It was a very long drive home after the event, but I took that time to reflect.
I believe life is meaningless in the most beautiful possible way. It is a blank canvas we paint a picture on. It’s too short to do things you don’t want to do or live in regret because you were too afraid to commit to the things you wanted to try. There is no room for growth there. So even though this jiu-jitsu journey has its ups and downs, I am still living a life that my past self would be proud of.
Gian Carlo is a 10th Planet Blue Belt and a comedian from Puerto Rico. He currently resides in Albuquerque where he trains under “Nasty” Nate Harris, and hosts 2 podcasts (Unemployed Commentators & The Shoot)